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Perimeter

8/13/2009
04:44 PM
John H. Sawyer
John H. Sawyer
Commentary
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Specialization Inevitable In Infosec

Specialization in the information security field is key. Plenty of blogs have been written during the past few months with infosec career advice, but none has hit the nail on the head like two recent posts from Richard Bejtlich and Anton Chuvakin.

Specialization in the information security field is key. Plenty of blogs have been written during the past few months with infosec career advice, but none has hit the nail on the head like two recent posts from Richard Bejtlich and Anton Chuvakin.Bejtlich and Chuvakin make the argument that it's impossible to be a generalist and survive in the infosec field -- being an expert in a particular topic is important, if not critical, to being successful.

So those of you out there claiming to be security experts, beware: It's time to either become an expert in an area like network defense, penetration testing, or exploit development, or change your description of yourself to something like "application security specialist" if you want to make it in security. There's no room for a jack-of-all-trades and master-of-none anymore.

While that seems a bit harsh, I think it's mostly true. Even if you started out as a "generalist," it's natural to progress toward a specialization because you find that you have a passion and are good at particular area. I feel that everyone will eventually end up specializing in something -- it's inevitable. For example, if you're the lone security guy in a company with all Windows desktops, then you're going to end up specializing in cleaning and rebuilding machines due to malware infections.

OK, maybe that's not entirely true, but you will end up with a specialization in securing and protecting Windows, with the possibility of a more acute understanding of securing desktops, patch management, or something else Windows-specific.

It could be that those folks who, as Anton puts it, claim to "know security" or are/claim to be "security experts" are just too new to the field to really understand the breadth of the security field. Or it could be that they are posers (a term we skaters used regularly back in junior high).

Heck, with the Internet and the relative anonymity that can be had, it's not hard to sell yourself as an expert. It's like the cartoon from the The New Yorker back in 1993: "On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog."

I started my career in community college thinking hacking was cool, and figured I'd end up learning how to break into things, but that wasn't the case. Instead, I started out in a basic tech job that lead to becoming a sysadmin, which naturally progressed into incident response, forensics, and intrusion analysis because I enjoyed it most and ended up being pretty damn good at it.

So if you don't have a passion for something in particular, keep trying things out until you find it. Eventually, you will either find something you have natural knack for and love doing it, or you'll realized you're in the wrong field. Good luck.

John H. Sawyer is a senior security engineer on the IT Security Team at the University of Florida. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are his own and do not represent the views and opinions of the UF IT Security Team or the University of Florida. When John's not fighting flaming, malware-infested machines or performing autopsies on blitzed boxes, he can usually be found hanging with his family, bouncing a baby on one knee and balancing a laptop on the other. Special to Dark Reading.

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